MID BACK MUSCLES: WHY TECHNIQUE IS CRUCIAL
We often hear about the best exercises for blasting out abs, shaping your glutes, or toning your arms. However, little attention is given to the mid-back, which is very unfortunate, seeing as these exercises can be pivotal in reducing low back, shoulder, and neck pain, not to mention physique, osteoporosis, and performance benefits.
That is, if you choose the right exercises, and if they are done correctly.
Our clients know that we are very particular in regards to exercise selection and technique, and recent research validates why this is so important, especially as it pertains to mid-low back exercises.
McGill, et al, in a recent study the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined the muscle activation, spinal movements, and forces experienced during 3 mid back exercises. I find such studies very interesting, because most only focus only on how much the muscle is working, but ignore the stresses placed on the joint involved, which have tremendous implications on injury risks. This research is the exception.
The first exercise examined was the bent over row. The bent over row was found to have a high level of activation of spinal muscles, rendering high stability, but also high compressive forces upon the spine. There was a strong tendency to bend into spinal flexion, so cueing for proper form was critical to reduce spinal injury.
The second exercise was the 1 arm standing cable row. This had moderate activation of spinal muscles, with greater activation of muscles that produce and prevent rotation. Interestingly, although visually there appeared to be very little rotation occurring, motion analysis revealed that there was movement upwards of 70% of available rotation while performing this exercise. This highlights the importance to use strategies to counteract that rotation, and according to the researchers, to use very strong external cueing from a trainer to minimize excessive rotation when the goal is stabilization.
The final exercise investigated was the inverted row. Spectrum clients know this exercise well. This exercise was found to have high level of activation of back muscles, and very low levels of spinal compressive forces. However, hyperextension was a noted compensation that occurred. Given that low compressive loads have been found to cause damage in hyperextension, the authors again noted the importance of exquisite attention to technique to assure proper spine position.
Interestingly, they performed the inverted row with the knees bent, but the hips in extension. Doing so causes tension on the hip flexors which tends to pull the spine into hyperextension, counteracting the abdominal muscles. This is not a problem if you are vigilant about spinal position, but for those who have tight hip flexors and weak abdominals (i.e. 90% of the population), this may be a big problem.
At Spectrum Fitness, our solution has been to have clients perform inverted rows with their knees in extension, reducing tension on the hip flexors (rectus femoris), yet actually increasing the challenge placed of the mid back muscles.
So, if you don’t have back problems, and want maximal activation of the mid back muscles, the inverted row may be an option for you. If you want to challenge the rotational muscles of the spine, and have very good instruction on proper technique, perhaps the 1 arm row may be a good option. However almost anyone would benefit from the inverted row, given the high muscle activation and minimal spinal muscle stress incurred.
Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the rationale behind exercise selection for mid back exercises, and an appreciation for the importance for proper technique. In honor of my quest to get rid of weak and neglected mid back muscles, go hit the rows and your mid back will thank you!
Dedicated to your health,
P.S. Want to be sure you are doing the right exercises for you, correctly? Click here for a free consultation.